Savannah Wittman, a junior at Rock Bridge High School, makes a banner

Savannah Wittman, a junior at Rock Bridge High School, makes a banner on Tuesday, March 13 during a meeting at the high school. Students hung banners to encourage participation in the Columbia March For Our Lives, which will take place Saturday.

Students, parents, teachers and community members will march from Francis Quadrangle to the Boone County Courthouse at 1 p.m. Saturday to rally against gun violence in support of the March For Our Lives in Washington. More than 600 marches will take place across the country as part of a movement inspired by the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 people last month.

Columbia’s march is being organized by a group of students who attend Rock Bridge High School. About 10 students have been meeting Tuesdays after school to plan the event, with the help of CoMo For Progress and the Columbia chapter of Moms Demand Action. The students have made accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to spread the word, sold T-shirts, fundraised, acquired permits, rented sound equipment and found rally speakers. At a March 13 meeting, students hung fliers around the building. Savannah Wittman, a junior, and Sarvika Mahto, a sophomore, made large banners reading “fear has no place in our schools.”

Rachael Erickson, a sophomore at Rock Bridge, is spearheading efforts.

“Students have a lot of emotional power,” she said. “I’m not 16. I can’t drive, and yet we’re the ones advocating for change. I’m just so happy that this is happening and that students are the ones leading it.”

Columbia Public Schools teachers are free to attend the march as well. They were unable to participate in the student-led walk out March 14, because it occurred during class time. Although students are organizing the march, they are welcoming anyone to join them.

Erickson said the march is non-partisan and the students planning it are not loyal to either major political party. They just want to see change happen, she said.

“Democrats and Republicans alike have received money from the NRA,” she said. “We really only want to support candidates who are clean of NRA money, who are accountable only to their own constituents and who want to implement the best policy. So, we don’t care if you’re a Democrat or Republican. We just don’t want to get shot up. I don’t want to die at school.”

The march and walkout are part of a national movement led by survivors of the Parkland shooting. Erickson said she first became inspired to act when she saw the Parkland students giving their testimonies in the days after the shooting, especially senior Emma González’s speech at a February gun control rally in Florida.

“It just felt really empowering, like for the first time in my life someone was actually doing something,” Erickson said. “Someone was speaking up, and not only was it someone, it was someone my age. It provided a role model almost of what a student activist can do, what a high schooler can do to change the world.”

Reece Furkin, a sophomore helping organize the march, said seeing Snapchat videos that students had taken during the shooting and hearing the gunshots made her realize “it could happen anywhere.” Erickson agreed.

“It could be Rock Bridge. It could be Hickman. It could be Battle,” Erickson said.

To prepare students for the possibility of a shooter in the school, CPS gives students and staff ALICE training once per semester, with support from law enforcement. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. The drills involve a simulation of an active-shooting event in which a school safety and security coordinator or law enforcement officer walks through the school pretending to be an active shooter, and the students and teachers must practice how they would respond.

If students and teachers are far from the location of the “shooter,” they are supposed to evacuate the building. If they are close, Erickson and Furkin said, they are instructed to lock and barricade the doors, remain quiet and grab anything that could be used as a weapon — pencils, textbooks, scissors.

“They have our school resource officer following to tally how many students would have got shot,” Furkin said.

During the last drill, Erickson said one of her teachers instructed them to evacuate the classroom. They failed the drill because they encountered the person who was acting as the gunman.

“(My teacher’s) reaction just sticks with me, because she was so upset and so mad at herself, and she was sitting there crying, and we were all trying to comfort her,” Erickson said.

“I swear all of my teachers would die to protect us. It’s just so disturbing that that’s even a thing we have to think about. I need to focus on memorizing logarithmic functions, not how to escape from one of my classmates killing me.”

Supervising editor is Jared Kaufman: news@columbiamissourian.com, 882-7884.

  • Community Outreach Team (spring 2020) and former K-12 education reporter (spring 2018). I am a senior studying magazine journalism.

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